May 30, 2017
Out today: Francesco Pacifico’s Class
by Melville House
Today, we’re excited to be publishing Class, Francesco Pacifico’s novel of ambitious young Italians let loose on a land of cultural milk and honey: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Marco Roth writes, “Francesco Pacifico turns his attention to Italy’s other major religion: ‘Cool.’ On the trail of Italian hipsters from Rome to Williamsburg, Class is both savage and tender, like Antonioni’s camera.” Won’t try to top that.
The book follows a group of languid expats pursuing different paths through the wilds of hipsterdom. Marcello produces and raps. Nicolino’s a playboy. And Sergio’s a lit scout, who in this scene, from the middle of the book, has just come home to Rome to see his father. Read this, and then click here to buy your copy immediately. Mille grazie.
He rides from piazza Bologna to Quartiere Tiburtino. The sun begins to set over the off-ramps that lure traffic off the Tangenziale Freeway, over the sleepy, dusty construction site that will one day reveal a more refined, more perfect Tiburtina Station. Quartiere Tiburtino sits just south of the station, beyond the bridge over the Tiburtina railroad. In low light, the massive bridge is blinding and disorienting. Sergino thinks about his father’s abasement. His divorce has declassed Bruno, and he has no choice but to live near the station on the wrong side of the tracks. The roadway is a threshold, a drawbridge that shuts down at night, leaving Bruno out in the cold. Sergio’s grandma is alive and healthy, so her Communist son can’t move to Parioli and take over her villa. Grandma can’t move and she barely speaks, but she pays the Filipino couple who take care of her a good wage, and she never sends her son any money. A few weeks ago she was diagnosed with ischemia, but after three days at the Quisisana clinic, she had the couple bring her home.
The two men meet in their usual spot, a bar with pounding artificial light and mirrors on every surface. Bruno’s hand is clammy and slick, like a raw fish. They gulp down two Fernets each.
“So, bello,” Bruno says. “How’s New York treating you?” He’s wearing linen in May, a rumpled suit the color of dirty doves, no tie. He’s bald but doesn’t shave his head, and there are sad white wisps of hair on his neck. He has the air of a man who still talks to women with great passion.
Sergio is unaware of his own affectations when the two of them are together. “Well, Bru”—this is what he calls him—“I’m thirty-eight and I’m still not bankrupt, so I can actually afford to party and fly first class.”
“You’re just like Grandma. She loves parties.”
“You do, too; you just can’t hold your liquor like we can. Grandma and I, we know what we’re doing.”
“Better that than being a happy man with a sad son and a sad mother.”
“I really hope you mean that. Otherwise it’s just depressing.”
Sergio studies himself in the mirror. His father is breathing long yoga breaths. Sergio tells him he’s stressed out: first London, then Milan, now Rome. “These trips really fuck up my immune system.”
“You’re drinking Fernet, though.”
“That’s the great Italian tradition. You don’t mess with that.”
“All right, but just two for me, at least before dinner. Let’s go upstairs,” he says even though his office is on the ground floor. He and his second family have always lived in this building on the fourth floor. His two daughters, undergrads who live with their parents, live just two ceilings from where Sergio and his father are now sitting facing each other. Sergio has met them fewer than ten times in his life.
I can’t understand why I’m seeing this, this encounter between father and son. It appears that I’m experiencing it just from Sergio’s point of view. I read his tweets through his eyes: “Small-time fathers” and “The only justice is money” and “You bet you’d love to be wealthier than your father if you had my father.”
In the meantime, his father is pulling his son’s papers out of a binder and arranging them on his desk. He uses a bulky gray PC to pull up spreadsheets for the last six months’ worth of transactions. He speaks lightly but briskly, like someone who’s trying to hurry things along. But I can’t understand whether this is what’s actually happening, or whether it’s just what Sergio’s seeing. Bruno manages his son’s Italian investments (Sergio doesn’t trust American banks; he pays taxes there, but he won’t invest) and the interest rate on his home mortgage. Sergio usually loves to hate on Bruno’s generic homilies about the recession, but he’s annoyed by their implication now: “You knew it when you sold the apartment — you knew where the market was going.”
“Listen, Bru, all anyone talks about in New York is money. I don’t want that kind of vulgarity here.” I realize how difficult it is for my dear Sergino to know that what he felt just moments earlier as he was riding over the bridge has to be suppressed and suffocated. Here, in front of his father, he has to stick to his pose — the pose he has no choice but to deploy anytime he doesn’t feel free enough to be himself.
“Sure, but I’m your accountant, so we have to talk money.”
A tweet: “I expected less vulgarity from Rome.”
“But the real losses are over… And I’d say that Mommy’s money”—which is how he’s always talked about the €700,000 Sergio got for the apartment and the €50,000 thousand he inherited, so he could imagine that his mother loved him even from the great beyond—“is still relatively safe.”
Tweet: “It’s great to have more money than your father, yes it is.”
Sergio checks the cuff of his pants, smooths it out, folds it over again. His father leans forward in his chair, his forehead the most visible part of him, his flimsy reading glasses lit up by the hot glow of the lamp.
“Listen, Bru, I have to ask… You haven’t been forging the double signature, have you? Maybe snatching a few bucks here and there? If you’re in trouble I can understand, but I hope you’re not doing it behind my back.”
I’m inside Sergino, I have to be, or else I’d know how his father is reacting. Sergio has no idea, and I’m not getting anything from Bruno, which can’t be right. Sergio flaunting his earnings over the last fiscal year. He’s asking how high the tassa sulla casa has climbed. He’s bragging about how much money he’s bringing in under the table by subletting a room in Williamsburg to some Italian acquaintances.
Sergio begins to notice his father’s state only when Bruno starts one of his yoga breathing exercises again. He places a finger on his right nostril and breathes in through the left, then puts his finger on the left nostril, breathes in through the right, and starts over. His son is offended and changes the subject. “I’m flying back on the BA001.”
“What?” says Bruno, a nger still on one nostril.
“BA001. BA’s special New York flight.”
His father seems unimpressed, but he finally removes his finger from his nose and places it on the desk. Now he’s hunched over the little gray mouse he uses to slowly click through the spreadsheets.
“BA. British Airways, zio, the airline.”
His father is silent. He hunches forward even farther, as if he were trying to pick something up from the floor. He pushes his office chair backward, rests his forehead on his knees, disappears below the desk.
“No, listen,” his son says, increasingly animated. “We fly out of London City Airport, in Canary Wharf, the financial center — the Manhattan of London. The airport is really small — it only has one runway. It’s a small plane: it used to have like a hundred seats, but it’s been remodeled, so it only has thirty, and they all fold down into beds. The whole plane is business class, so you leave from this tiny-ass airport, this ridiculous strip of land right on the water, and you have to stop in Shannon, this airport in Ireland, where you can clear U.S. customs because of this agreement they have with the U.S. government.”
His father hasn’t lifted his head or his back. He’s continuing with his antipanic breathing technique.
“The flight from London to Shannon is supershort. You get an aperitivo in-flight, and then you’re basically there. You get off the plane and clear customs in less than twenty minutes in this, like, shit hole of an airport while they fill the tank. You get back on board and do Shannon—JFK, and they give you the entire package: you get wined, dined, champagned, napped, iPadded, blanketed. You’re barefoot, totally comfortable, lying down, and then you walk off the plane and go straight to a cab because you already cleared customs.”
And here’s Bruno. He finishes his yoga exercises and resurfaces with red cheeks, his hands pressed against the mahogany desk. He speaks in a way that’s utterly his: “If I may speak my mind…”
“I think the real luxury on a trip to America is a nonstop flight.”
The pores of Sergio’s bald head start prickling at the same time. “Oh, Madonna! You’re so fucking provincial! Nonstop? Yeah, sure, and then you have to stand in line for an hour at passport control. You spend as much time there as you would on a fucking domestic flight. Instead I get this leisurely hour in Shannon among other people who are also into traveling well and have three grand to spend. And then I’m on this little plane, the least-populated little plane on earth, watching Jason Bourne on an iPad. The real luxury is a nonstop flight? Tiburtina State of Mind, man.”
His father resumes his yoga position under the desk as his son pontificates. “How can you even think that a nonstop flight is luxury? All that means is that you never listen. Never.”
Bruno reemerges and begins putting his son’s papers in order as the young man gets up, says “ciao,” turns, and leaves. His father calls after him, tries to stop him: “Sergio!” But he has to know that at this point in the relationship, one goodbye is as good as any other.